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Manmatha Nath Dutt – V

Bibek Debroy is chairman of the Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council
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The other work and a conclusion

Let’s now turn to Gleanings.  There were three such books.  The first of these was published in 1893, with the added title of “Tales of Ind”.  This had the retellings of seventeen stories, with two explanatory appendices on the Bhagavad Gita and Yoga. Using the spellings of proper names used by Manmatha Nath Dutt, these seventeen stories were on (1) battles of gods and demons; (2) Shiva and Sati; (3) Srikrishna; (4) the monkey war; (5) the battle of Kurukshetra; (6) Nala and Damayanti; (7) Sribatsa and Chinta; (8) Prahlada; (9) the lost ring; (10) the boy devotee; (11) Sabitri and Satyavan; (12) Debjani; (13) Bilwamangala; (14) Harishchandra; (15) Parasurama; (16) Bishaya; and (17) the danava king.  The monkey war means the story of the Ramayana, the lost ring is the story of Shakuntala, the boy devotee is about Dhruva and the danava king is about Bali.  Sribatsa (Srivatsa) and Chinta is a Bengali folk-tale and might not be that well-known outside Bengal.  There was a dispute between Shani and Lakshmi about the superiority of one vis-à-vis the other.  They asked a man named Sribatsa to adjudicate.  When he favoured Lakshmi, the story was about Shani subjecting Sribatsa and his wife, Chintamani, to various travails.  Lal Behari Dey (1824-92) compiled the folk-tales of Bengal in 1883.  This compilation had the Sribatsa-Chintamani story under the title, “The Evil Eye of Sani”.  To repeat, Manmatha Nath Dutt did not plagiarize, but it is obvious his version of Sribasta and Chinta drew upon Lal Behari Dey’s retelling.  Bilwamangala (Bilvamangala) is of course the story of Bilvamangala, who was addicted to a courtesan, also known as Chintamani, before he discovered the true objective of life.  Bishaya (Vishaya) is the story of Vishaya and Chandrahasa.  Manmatha Nath Dutt clearly wrote this book for a British audience, not an Indian one, not even for an Indian readership conversant with English.  A few quotes from his footnotes will illustrate this.  “The tale of the battle of gods and demons is an allegorical account of the ever-lasting struggle of the elements, the struggle of Life and Death, the struggle of the forces of preservation and destruction, the battle of the good and the evil, that is continuing from the beginning of time….The Christians have Satan, a quite distinct being from God; but the Hindus say that He as Vishnu is All-good and He as Shiva is All-evil….They should also mark that the demons were the greatest favourites of God as Shiva.”  On that same topic of the battle between the gods and the demons, “Readers should notice the similarity of this battle with that of Satan with the gods in the fields of heaven.  Evidently either of the two must have borrowed from each other.”  Or, “Again there is a great similarity of this tale with the tale of the Bible.  Shoma’s enticement of the heavenly goddess and the consequent loss of heaven looks almost like Satan’s enticement of Eve and the loss of Paradise.  Again here in this tale the heaven was regained by the birth of a son of God Shiva, just as in the Bible, by the birth of Christ.”  On Vedavyasa having Vidura as a son, “All through this tale readers would find laxity of the marriage system and want of female chastity. – It is evident, in those days the morals in India were quite different from those that of the modern world.”  For Shakuntala, a comparison that others have also made.  “The readers should mark the similarity of Kalidasa’s Shakuntala with Shakespear’s Miranda (Tempest).”  For Manmatha Nath Dutt, the idea of the comparison must have come from Bankim Chandra Chatterjee (Chattopadhyay).  In 1875/76, in a Bengali magazine known as “Bangadarshan”, Bankim Chandra wrote an essay (in Bengali) comparing Shakuntala, Miranda and Desdemona.  Rabindranath Tagore also wrote a comprehensive essay which touched on the same topic, but that appeared after Gleanings-I was published. In connection with Sabitri (Savitri) and Satyavana, “Evidently all this means that a chaste, faithful and loving wife is a goddess whom even Pluto does not touch.”  Finally, “The ceremony of holy-thread is a sort of Baptismal.”  Today, there is little in Gleanings-I to hold a reader’s interest.  Indeed, there was no reason for it to have done particularly well in 1893 either.

However, Gleanings-I did do well.  Gleanings-II was published in 1897 and the Preface stated, “We are very glad to say that our attempt to popularize Indian Classics has met with immense success.  In the course of six months the first edition of our “Tales of Ind” has been all sold.  We have received encouragement from all sides.  We, therefore, hasten to place a few more volumes of the “Gleanings” before our readers.”  Writers mature, their styles change.  But between 1893 and 1897, it was almost as if Manmatha Nath Dutt was a changed person.  This doesn’t come across in the translations, but it does come across in Manmatha Nath Dutt’s other writings.  What changed?  Sucheta Kriplani was born in 1908.  Her mother, Prembala, was educated and married into an educated family.  Prembala must have been at least 23 when Sucheta Kriplani was born.  This means Prembala was born around 1885.  After two of her younger brothers were born, Prembala’s mother, Charubala, died.  Therefore, Charubala probably died around 1890.  The deaths of wives are known to change the lives of many men.  Perhaps one does need to highlight that Manmatha Nath Dutt’s translations and other writings started from 1891.  There was nothing that dated to before this year.  In passing, we know his children were brought up by his in-laws.  After his wife’s death, there were no family responsibilities, so to speak.  The deaths of wives, or other near and dear ones, often draw men towards religion.  As religious movements go, Bengal was in a bit of a churn then.  There was Christianity.  There were men in Bengal who were drawn towards it, even to the extent of getting converted.  Lal Behari Dey was one such example.  Clearly, Manmatha Nath Dutt was conversant with Christian tenets and stories, and the Bible in particular, but there is no evidence that he was ever drawn towards it. There were the theosophists and the Dhole connection shows that Manmatha Nath Dutt knew the theosophists quite well.  Hirendranath Dutta (1860-1942), the famous lawyer, philosopher, scholar and politician, was a theosophist.  Born into the Hatkhola Dutta family, Hirendranath Dutta must have had very close family connections with Manmatha Nath Dutt, perhaps a cousin.  There is no evidence that Manmatha Nath Dutt was ever drawn towards the theosophist movement.  There was the Brahmo Samaj, a movement Manmatha Nath Dutt had close links with, courtesy his marriage and because he was Rector of Keshub Academy.  The Brahmo Samaj movement has been extensively documented.  However, barring the Keshub Academy angle, Manmatha Nath Dutt’s name figures nowhere in the history of this movement.  There was Ramakrishna Paramahansa (1836-86) and there is extensive documentation of his disciples, of the sannyasi or non-sannyasi variety, and others who visited him.  Manmatha Nath Dutt’s name doesn’t find a name in this extensive documentation.  The Ramakrishna Math was established in Baranagar in 1887, after Ramakrishna Paramahansa’s death and this brings us to Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902), another contemporary of Manmatha Nath Dutt’s. Swami Vivekananda’s addresses at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago in 1893 made a great impression on Manmatha Nath Dutt.  Gleanings-III was published in 1899 and in that, he wrote, “It is better for us to quote the most excellent address delivered before the Parliament of Religions in Chicago by one who has not only read the Hindu Shastras through and through but who has realized the highest ideal of the religion of the great Rishis.  Perhaps it is the best sketch of Hinduism that was ever written or told.”  Suffice to say, after Swami Vivekananda in Chicago, Manmatha Nath Dutt seemed to have rediscovered Hinduism and what he wrote thereafter was no longer directed at an exclusively British audience.  Nor did he feel compelled to bring in Christian parallels, unlike Gleanings-I.

Gleanings-II was about “Heroines”.  In the Introduction, “There were gems and jewels in India which were the wonders of the human race, but far more beautiful and far more precious than all this is the Hindu Wife.  She is the purest of all the gems that have ever been found in any part of the world.  A brief narrative, of the characters and careers of some of those that have been reckoned as heroines in the pages of history, - those whose names have come down from generation to generation as the glorious productions of woman-hood and those whom the people of India adore, admire and cherish as the idols of their worship, will show that they were none but the Hindu wives.”  There is a description of the home and the hearth and the wife as the mistress of the house.  There is also a long section, in the eventuality of widowhood.  “In the unknowable mystery of destiny she often becomes a widow, and widowhood is but another shade of the Hindu marriage.  Her belief is that marriage is not for this world alone, but for eternity and her husband is her husband for ever-lasting time through innumerable births and deaths.”  As a signatory to the remarriage petition, Kashinath Dutta might not have approved.  The descriptions of the heroines begin with Sati and Shiva and then portray women from the Vedas and the Upanishads, moving on to Lilavati (the mathematician) and Khana (the astrologer).  After this, there are more contemporary women – Sanyukta (Prithviraj Chauhan’s wife), Padmini, the Rani of Argal, Karum Devi (who was promised in marriage to the ruler of Mandore, but loved Sadoo, the daughter of a desert chief instead), Tara Bai (the wife of Prithviraj), Panna (the nursemaid to Uday Singh II of Mewar), the queen of Ganore, Rani Durgavati, the chieftain’s wife (the wife of Pratapaditya of Jessore), the Jodhpur queen (the wife of Jaswant Singh of Marwar), Rani Bhabani (of Natore), the banker’s daughter (Jagat Seth’s daughter), the bandit lady (Devi Chaudhurani), Ahalya Bai (of Indore), Princess Krishna (from Udaipur), Maharani Jhindan (Maharaja Duleep Singh’s mother), the Rani of Jhansi and Mira Bai.  From this listing, the influence of Lieutenant Colonel James Tod is obvious.  There was quite a bit of fascination in Bengal about Rajasthan. Romesh Chunder Dutt had not only translated the Ramayana and the Mahabharata into English in verse form, in 1878, he also published a book in Bengali titled “Rajput jivan Sandhya”, with stories from Rajasthan.

A few of the stories in Gleanings-II are of course Bengal-specific.  Pratapaditya (1561-1611) was a zamindar, and later became the king of Jessore.  Irrespective of what the real Pratapaditya was like, Bengali literature of the time portrayed him as a hero.  The plays on Pratapaditya came later, after Manmatha Nath Dutt had died.  When he wrote Gleanings-II, there were three novels on Pratapaditya, one by Rabindranath Tagore.  Manmatha Nath Dutt probably got his idea from a novel written by Pratap Chandra Ghosh.  Rani Bhabani was a household name in Bengal, because of her generosity and philanthropy.  However, since Manmatha Nath Dutt mentioned both Rani Bhabani (1716-95) and Ahalya Bai (1725-95) of Indore, one suspects he might have been well-acquainted with Varanasi.  After all, visitors, and even immigrants, from Bengal were fairly common in Varanasi and Manmatha Nath Dutt could well have visited Varanasi.  Ahalya Bai wasn’t that known in Bengal, not then.  Of the two Durga temples in Varanasi, one was built by Rani Bhabani, the other by Ahalya Bai.  Ahalaya Bai’s public works in Varanasi included the reconstruction of several temples, the rehabilitation of ghats and the building of dharamshalas.  Rani Bhabani was also associated with several public works in Varanasi.  About Rani Bhabani, Manmatha Nath Dutt wrote, “Temples with charity houses were built all over the country; countless tanks were dug to do away with the scarcity of water.  In Benares she built many temples and established many charity-houses.” The factual basis for the Devi Chaudhuri story is very tenuous, though British records show that such a person did indeed exist.  Therefore, Manmatha Nath Dutt essentially based his version on the Bankim Chandra Chatterji novel.  This leaves Asamanya, Jagat Seth’s daughter.  While Jagat Seth was a familiar name, the naming of the daughter was very unusual.  That idea probably came from a long-forgotten book, written by Upendra Kumara Ghosha in 1895. 

After so many years, Gleanings-II is still worth a read.  What’s also interesting about Gleanings-II is the educated Bengali’s take on the events of 1857.  It wasn’t as if Manmatha Nath Dutt was an exception.  This was indeed the average educated Bengali’s reaction.  From the bit on the Rani of Jhansi, “The whole of the memorable Mutiny has been disfigured by the most unprecedented cruelty and shedding of innocent blood.  There could be no justification for the massacre of the English women and children.  Never in the annals of India warriors were found to be so cowardly as to raise their swords upon helpless women and children.  But the Mutiny was the work of low class ruffians who were picked up by the English Sergeants and enlisted as Sepoys.  They had no sympathy of the members of the noble houses, and they kept themselves aloof from the Mutiny, or else India would have been lost to the English.  We have searched through every page of the history of the Indian Mutiny, written both by friends and foes of the Indian people and we have not found any of them charging the Rani of Jhansi with the massacre of women and children.  She never allowed her soldiers to participate in these bloody cruelties; she often tried to dissuade the Sepoys from the path of cowardice and ruffianism, - and when she failed to turn them from cruelty and murder she separated herself from them and went away with her men to some other place.”  Indeed, one of those pieces in Gleanings-II is about individuals who saved the English in the course of the Mutiny.

Gleanings-III had the secondary title, “Prophets of Ind”.  Published in 1899, this was condiderably influenced by Swami Vivekananda.  From the Introduction, “The Religion of the Hindus is not only the oldest religion of the world, but it is the most novel religion amongst all the religions of the civilized societies….It is not one religion, - it is not one structure….It is like the palace, which if seen from a distance will appear to be but one stupendous building, but if examined closely, and if seen from the foot of its walls, it would appear to be a pile of buildings, one rising above the other.”  The Introduction then had a longish quote from Swami Vivekananda’s address in Chicago on 19th September 1893, though it didn’t mention Swami Vivekananda by name.  Having done this, the Introduction continued, “The difficulty in understanding the religion of the Hindus is that it has three-fold aspects.  All other religions have only one aspect, but Hinduism has three distinct features.  These three might be termed the three great steps to attain salvation.  The first is sacrifices, pujas etc. that is all that is done with the help of material objects.  The second is mental culture, such as cultivating good qualities, subjugating bad passions and ennobling the mind in every way.  The third is spiritual communion.  The first two are denied by the other chief religions of the world, the last has mere a half-hearted support from them….In this little book we have attempted to place before our readers short biographies and the teachings of some of the great prophets of Hinduism.”  Who were the prophets Manmatha Nath Dutt wrote about?  Shri Krishna and Buddha, of course.  The others, covered in less detail, were Sankar, Ramanuja, Ramanand and Kabir.  Drawing on Mahabharata, Hari Vamsha, Bhagavata Purana and Bhagavad Gita, the Krishna sketch was familiar territory.  The Buddha sketch drew extensively on Rhys Davids.  It also mentioned the St. Josaphat connection.  “Now who is this St. Josaphat?  The author, John of Damascus, said that the Saint was a son of an Indian king, but he became a hermit afterwards.  He added that he heard the story from men who came from India.  It has now been proved beyond all doubt that Josaphat, which means Budhisattva, was no other than Goutam Budha of Kapilavastu.”  This was discussed in Rhys Davids and also figured in an earlier talk by Max Muller.  However, this interest in the Buddha led Manmatha Nath Dutt to write an extensive book on the Buddha, his life and his teachings in 1901.  This drew quite extensively on Rhys Davids and Oldenberg’s life of the Buddha.  But by bringing in a Hinduism perspective, Dutt imparted his own value addition.  Nevertheless, today, there is not much in the Buddha book.  One might as well read Oldenberg or Rhys Davids.  There is not much in the 1899 Ayurveda book either.  It was essentially based on a book by Thomas Wise.

In the non-translation category, this leaves two other books.  The first is the 1904 book of Hindu metaphysics.  Unlike translations, or disseminating the works of others, this was Manmatha Nath Dutt’s own take on what can loosely be called moksha dharma.  “While carrying on my studies in Hindu Philosophy, I felt the want of a handy volume in which a beginner, or one who has not had the time and opportunity of going through the numberless volumes in Sanskrit, dealing with this branch of Hindu literature, can find ready at hand a systematic exposition of the various important problems of Hindu Metaphysics….To remove the want, which at least I myself felt very much, I have gleaned these sheafs from my own field of labour with a view that they may be of some use to general readers and students of Hindu Philosophy….I have spared no pains and trouble to make this little treatise a preparatory ground for the study of higher subjects, and my labours will be amply rewarded if, by the perusal of my humble work, one single reader finds himself interested in the study of Hindu Metaphysics.”  Unlike the other Dutt books, this was replete with quotes in Sanskrit, given as footnotes, from the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, the Yoga Vasishtha Ramayana, the Bhagavata Purana and even tantra texts.  As mentioned earlier, even when he was quoted, Swami Vivekananda was not referred to by name.  This is the first book where Manmatha Nath Dutt mentioned Shri Ramakrishna by name and quoted him.  The quote was from what came to be known as “Kathamrita” in Bengali and “The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna” in the English translation, based on a diary maintained by a disciple named Mahendra Nath Gupta, more commonly known as “M”.  The Bengali versions, in five volumes, were published between 1902 and 1932.  The English version that is often read now is a 1942 translation, done by Swami Nikhilananda.  M published a few pages of the diary in Bengali, in the form of a pamphlet.  This led to a letter of encouragement from Swam Vivekananda.  Thereafter, from October 1897, in a magazine known as Brahmavadin, M serialized the diary under the title Leaves from the Gospel of the Lord Sri Ramakrishna.  This was a version in English and this was the source Manmatha Nath Dutt quoted from.  It is a version that is now difficult to get.  Today, there are several books on the gist of moksha dharma.  Nevertheless, his Metaphyisics stands the test of time.  His language was never archaic.

The 1905 “Domestic Duty” was even more remarkable.  After all, Hinduism is often equated with the pursuit of moksha and it is the corresponding texts that are invariably quoted.  However, most people are in the garhasthya or householder stage, not in vanaprastha or sannyasa.  Rarely do they find a mention.  “The life of a householder is the training ground for the acquisition of a higher life….I have attempted to collect in this small work, the various sacred injunctions of the Rishis about personal duties and responsibilities, and I shall consider my labours amply rewarded, if, by the perusal of these pages, even one of my countrymen becomes an ideal Hindu.”  Being an ideal Hindu never meant the avoidance of the pursuits of kama and artha.  Since they were written in 1905, the following quotes are quite remarkable.  “The degeneration and poverty of the present day Hindus is mainly due to their apathy for commercial and agricultural undertakings and hankering after service for making money.  Even some of them foolishly believe that respectability lies in holding a Goverrnment appointment, and not in the pursuit of trade, for they do not know that a humble trader is thousand-fold happier than they, for he enjoys the sweets of independence.  Therefore to those of our readers, who wish to earn money, we beg to suggest that they must take to commerce and agriculture, trade and manufacture and not to service.”  Or, “The greatest defect in our Indian character is that we start business without having received any education in the line.  The common thing in India is that a journalist, carrying considerable influence with the public or enjoying a wide-spread reputation, floats a joint-stock company for carrying on a business of which he is quite ignorant.  He becomes the Director of the same business without having any previous training in it.  Again we find a millionaire starting a new business, having no practical knowledge of the same…Our rich people, if they wish to set their sons in business, should first of all qualify them for any particular line of work they may happen to chose, by placing them under the tuition of experts.”  These aren’t statements one normally associates with a translator.

Clearly, as a translator, and as a non-translator, Manmatha Nath Dutt should have been remembered much more.  Why isn’t he?  There are several strands in the answer and there is no uni-causal explanation.

Here is a quote from P. Lal’s annotated Mahabharata bibliography. “This complete and faithful translation- the first of the two complete renderings into English of the epic and the only edition now available- is the monumental accomplishment strangely referred to, by scholars and bibliographers alike, as “the P.C. Roy translation.” … Pratap Chandra Roy was born in the village of Shanko in the Burdwan district of Bengal on 15 March 1842. When he grew up, he became a bookseller in Calcutta. By 1869 he had put by enough money to buy a small printing press and start a publishing concern. … Luck brought him Babu Kisari Mohan Ganguli, a man with a brilliant academic record in English; Ganguli was entrusted with the work of translating the epic while Roy went around collecting funds from “peasants and princes, Anglo-Indian officials and English and American sympathisers to warrant him in going forward”- for his ambition (in which he succeeded) was to distribute the translated volumes free. …Babu Kisari Mohan Ganguli, who, “like a literary Atlas bore the heavy burden of the translation,” gets mentioned only in the last volume of the English translation. Though he had no hand at all in the translation, Roy put his own name on the title page of the first nine volumes. …K.M. Ganguli’s was entirely a labour of love. “My husband scarcely exaggerated the truth,” wrote P.C. Roy's widow, “when he used to say that ..... he was only the hand that did the work while lying on his death bed, he earnestly appealed to Babu Kisari Mohan to complete the undertaking. With tears in his eyes, Babu Kisari Mohan readily gave the assurance that was solicited, saying that he would not, on any account, give up the work.” In his “Translator's Postscript,” at the end of volume XI (1896), Ganguli explains that “Roy was against anonymity. I was for it.””  First, that was a different day and age.  People were less concerned about “I” and “mine”.  Ganguli and Dutt worked on their translations as labours of love.  They were less concerned about recognition.  Consequently, the Ganguli translation was known for a long time as the P.C. Roy translation.  The Manmatha Nath Dutt translations and other books were known to be his work, but beyond that, there were no bibliographies on dust jackets telling us about him.  The age of marketing hadn’t yet arrived.

Second, Ganguli had a publisher who took care of marketing, distribution and publicity.  All of Manmatha Nath Dutt’s books were self-publishing initatives.  Self-publishing then, and the principles are no different today, has pros, but it also has cons.  Once Manmatha Nath Dutt died in 1912, everything just fell apart.  The Society wound up.  Elysium Press vanished.  Wealth of India ceased publication.  There was no one left to carry anything forward.  In today’s jargon, there was no succession planning for the Society, for Elysium Press, or for Wealth of India and the books.

Third, the legacy is often carried forward by descendants.  The memories are carried forward by descendants.  Family trees are reconstructed by descendants.  In Manmatha Nath Dutt’s case, the wife, Charubala, died around 1890.  We don’t know for sure that he married a second time.  Perahaps he did not.  The daughter, Prembala, and the two sons, were brought up by the in-laws.  Prembala lived in distant Ambala.  At least one of the sons went off to Kuala Lumpur.  We don’t know what happened to the second son.  The daughter and sons did not seem to have had any links with Manmatha Nath Dutt after their mother died.  There was a distancing.  Hence, their ties with him were at best tenuous and they weren’t interested in his memory or legacy.  Years down the line, if he was at all remembered, it was by non-family members like Sanat K. Roy Chowdhury.  Add to that a speculative hypothesis.  In 1912, when he died, Manmatha Nath Dutt wasn’t an unknown name, as an author or translator.  The newspapers and magazines of the day didn’t carry obituaries like they do now, at least not for non-Europeans.  Nevertheless, the news of his death should have appeared as a news item, if not as an obituary.  But there seems to have been nothing.  Hence, it is possible that he didn’t die in Calcutta.  Having died elsewhere, his death too went unnoticed.

Fourth, Manmatha Nath Dutt didn’t live that long.  With some marginal differences between males and females, in 1901, the life expectancy at birth was 24 years in India.  Therefore, a statement about Manmatha Nath Dutt not living long enough needs qualification.  He did live for fifty years.  Twenty four was the average life expectancy and it was low because of a variety of health-related factors.  But 24 wasn’t the life expectancy across all classes.  To state it differently, if one survives till a certain age, the life expectancy increases.  This comes across in what demographers call life-tables, not life expectancy at birth, but life expectancy at various ages.  For example, in one such reconstructed life-table for India for 1901, if a male survived till the age of fifty, his life expectancy was actually 68.67 years.  Rabindranath Tagore lived till the age of 80, Sivanath Sastri till the age of 72, Romesh Chunder Dutt till the age of 61, Hirendranath Dutta till the age of 72 and so on.  Compared to his contemporaries, who belonged to the same class of society, Manmatha Nath Dutt didn’t live that long.

Fifth, fame is often not only a function of what one does individually, but also of the collective entity to which one belongs.  Manmatha Nath Dutt never got identified with any of the religious movements of the time – Christianity, the theosophist movement, the Brahma Samaj, the Ramakrishna Mission.  He lacked that collective identity.  He didn’t get identified with the nationalist movement, not even with the 1905 partition of Bengal.  He lacked that collective identity too.  Whatever he pursued was his individual search for the truth, as he perceived it.  Consequently, there was never a collective body that would carry his legacy and memory forward.

Sixth, he never quite overcame that branding of a dilettante, not a professional.  In the area of translations and editions of ancient texts, Bengal was an amazing reservoir of talent then.  Kaliprasanna Singha (1841-70) translated the entire unabridged Mahabharata into Bengali.  Panchanan Tarkaratna (1866-1940), whose background as a traditional Sanskrit scholar from Bhatpara was the polar opposite of Manmatha Nath Dutt’s, edited many Sanskrit texts and translated them into Bengali.  This included Valmiki Ramayana, Adhyatma Ramayana, dharmashastra texts and several Puranas.  Michael Madhusudan Dutt (1824-73) did his version of the Ramayana story, Meghnad Badh Kavya (The Slaying of Meghnada).  There were the Bibliotheca Indica editions.  In 1840, Horace Hayman Wilson (1786-1860) published the first unabridged English translation of any Purana, the Vishnu Purana. Hara Prasad Shastri (1853-1931) was busy collecting manuscripts from Nepal and translating the Buddhist Puranas.  As in other areas of intellectual activity, there was a surfeit of talent in Sanskrit scholarship too.  Manmatha Nath Dutt’s contribution never quite registered in the general consciousness.  He fell between the two stools of the popular and the academically proper.  A zamindar dabbling in such matters.  This wasn’t quite true.  But it may well have been the perception.  We should no longer have that perception.  He was a most extraordinary translator and author.


1. In 1955, there was a fairly successful Bengali film by the name of Sribatsa Chinta.

2. Folk Tales of Bengal, Lal Behari Dey, Macmillan and Company, 1883.  The illustrated 1912 edition is more popular.

3. Brihaspati’s wife, Tara.

4. Kartikeya.

5. Prachin Sahitya.

6. In a Bengali magazine known as Sahitya, in 1893, Hirendranath Dutta wrote two essays comparing Kalidasa and Shakespeare.  Before studying law, he studied English (B.A./M.A.) in Presidency College.

7. Annals and Antiquities of Rajast'han or the Central and Western Rajpoot States of India, James Tod, Vol.1, 1829 and Vol. 2, 1832, London.  These are the editions Manmatha Nath Dutt would have read, not the subsequent 1920 editions.

8. Bou Thakuranir Haat.

9. Bangadhip Parajay, 2 volumes, 1869 and 1884, Pratap Chandra Ghosh, People’s Press, Calcutta.  This book also provided the material for Tagore’s Bou Thakuranir Haat.

10. Kashi Vishwanath Temple was one of these.

11. Devi Chaudhurani, Bangiya Sahitya Parishad, 1884.

12. Asamanya, Daughter of Jagat Seth, Upendra Kumara Ghosha, 1895.

13. “A Group from the Past”.

14. “Paper on Hinduism”,  Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, Vol.1,

15. Buddhism: Being A Sketch of the Life and Teachings of Gautama, the Buddha, T.W. Rhys Davids, Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, London, 1877.

16. In the eighth century, St. John of Damascus wrote a book titled “Life of Barlaam and Joaspah”.

17. “On the Migration of Fables”, F. Max Müller, lecture delivered at the Royal Institution in 1870, reprinted in, Chips from a German Workshop, Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, 1881.

18. Buddha; His life, His doctrine, His order, Hermann Oldenberg, translated by William Hoey, Williams and Norgate, London, 1882.

19. Review of the History of Medicine, Thomas Wise, J. Churchill, London, 1867/

20. A piece on maya by Nandalal Dhole was also inserted, indicating that, even in 1904, Manmatha Nath Dutt was in touch with Heeralal Dhole, whose permission was required.

21. Op. cit.

22. “Generation Life Table for India, 1901-1951”, Bagsmrita Bhagawati and Labananda Choudhury, Middle East Journal of Age and Ageing, Vol. 12, Issue 3, October 2015.

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Manmatha Nath Dutt-I
Manmatha Nath Dutt – II
Manmatha Nath Dutt – III

Manmatha Nath Dutt – IV